I started OTOY with my business partner when I was 24. My partner is a technical genius, software engineer and was very well respected in his field by this point. In order to get the company off the ground, he needed to focus almost entirely on the development of our software. There was a ticking time clock for the technology and every moment counted. He needed a business partner to handle all of the other aspects of building the company, from raising money and negotiating strategic partnerships to hiring employees, accounting and handing media relations. He and I had worked together for over a year, through my previous position, and he asked me for my help with this. I was extremely enthusiastic to have such an opportunity at such a young age and thought I had hit the jackpot. I could never have imagined having such an exciting and wide-ranging position. I moved to California where I had no family and very little support and we started OTOY.
My enthusiasm was almost immediately met with resistance. I was responsible for handling the operations of the business and coordinating with outside parties but quickly found that people would often not listen when I spoke or gave direction. I knew what needed to get done and how to do it but people wanted to deal with my business partner and often told me that they would only take direction from him.
The situation was very hard on both of us and a business challenge we did not anticipate having when we started OTOY. I was many times at meetings where he was told, in front of me, that he needed to get a "real executive" to run his business. The people saying this had no idea what I was capable of and had never worked with me, but were making judgments about my abilities nonetheless. As a young person starting a career, with very little confidence and experience to rely on, I did not know the best way to respond. I often wondered if these individuals, who had much more experience than I had and all ran successful companies, knew something about me that I did not know. I decided that I would continue helping OTOY but that I would let go of working to fill the executive role and try to find someone else to build our businesses. This time was very difficult for me since there was a strong part, deep within me, that knew I could do it, I just didn't want to fight everyone. I had too much to contend with handling the practical responsibilities of running the business to campaign and try to convince people I was something I wasn't sure I was.
During this time, I spent a lot of time meditating. I had been practicing meditation for years and devoted myself more to my practice, at times meditating for hours each day. While figuring out how we were going to pay our bills with a decreasing bank balance and attract the best engineers, feeling overwhelmed and unsure of myself, I would focus on my breath and center myself. I planned for the future of our company but once that was done, stayed focused on my present tasks.
I began taking an extension course with Dan Siegel at his Mindsight Institute, learning how to create supportive, healthy and compassionate relationships. Dan was the first person that introduced me to the idea of focusing on the space between me and the other person I am interacting with and nurturing that space. I learned how to focus my attention on my internal state and to tune to the experiences other people were having. I learned to use this awareness to guide and direct my interactions to healthy and positive outcomes and I started implementing these practices in my work interactions.
The early days at OTOY taught me, first hand, how powerful an environment can be in shaping our experiences and even our performance. I often wonder how things could have been for me and our company if I had more support. If I had been met with encouragement, support and guidance rather than resistance and roadblocks. Over the years, I proved to the people looking for a real executive that I was capable of doing what needs to get done to run a business and nearly all of them are advocates of mine now. I assembled a team of advisers to bolster us in the areas where we didn't have as much experience and this guidance has been a springboard for me. I went from having almost no support to being supported by some of the best minds in the world.
As we have built our team it has been very important to me to provide a nurturing and compassionate environment. I have experienced exactly how powerful and transformative someone's support and guidance can be. I care about the experience my team has at work and I do everything I can to show them that I value their experience and appreciate their contribution. The better we have done at this, the better our company has performed. I actively try to create an environment where people enjoying coming to work and participating. Where people have a voice, direction over their projects and are able to explore their interests and creativity. I have shared my experiences with meditation over the years and recently found that there was enough interest to begin offering meditation classes to our team.
For the people who work closest with me, I have taken on more of a mentor role. We have meetings to discuss the areas in which they are interested in learning more and come up with plans to get them this experience. I did this initially to give back to my team and make sure they were staying enthused about their work and future at OTOY. I found very quickly that this shift from being a boss to a steward of their experience caused everyone's performance, involvement and engagement to skyrocket. I had team members getting training on the weekends, on their own and without my knowledge, for things that they saw could benefit the company and studying areas where they could take on more responsibility. As they learned and grew, they helped me more and contributed more to our success. Everyone was happier and more productive, including me.
The path to leadership has been an uphill one for me. The odds were against me so I needed to make sure that every one of my decisions, every response, was thought out and well executed. I learned to remain calm in the face of controversy and focus on what was best for the business. I learned how to create solutions that were optimal for everyone involved and act in ways that are accretive. The team is still run at an executive level by me and my business partner. We have raised money from some of the most astute investors, who believe in us and and support our vision. We have created successful products and partnerships and are considered to be at the forefront of our space.
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